biblical truth

Repentance Isn't Just for Unconverted Sinners

Photo credit: The word repent and the idea of repentance may conjure some stereotypical images. Perhaps we imagine someone with a half-crazed look wearing a signboard with the word emblazoned on it— REPENT!

Those familiar with the Bible might imagine one of the OT prophets or John the Baptizer. John was not a mainstream kind of person. He wore rough clothing, ate locusts and honey, and lived outside the city limits. If you wanted to hear him, you went to him. He didn't do house calls, and his message was direct and impartial (Matt 3:1-12).

Repentance is a common topic in the Bible, but it's time to ditch the stereotypes and misconceptions.

By popular request... sort of

A few weeks back I had a short survey quiz in one of my posts. I asked what important truths in the Christian faith were neglected or overlooked. One of the choices caught quite a bit of interest–repentance.

This is a follow-up on that topic, but probably not what most people expect. The topic of repentance, just the word repent, stirs all sorts of responses, and not all are productive.

Why do the words repent and repentance stir strong reactions? Perhaps the word itself is not well understood.

The meaning of words

Most of the time, we get our understanding of words by how they're used. The  words, "Oh, I love you," have meaning based on how they're said. It depends on the intent of the speaker. These simple words can be spoken with romantic passion or sarcasm—producing quite different reactions.

So, it's good to find the original meaning of a word and its etymology, then understand it within its context. I'll give some biblical examples of this later. But first, some definitions from their Greek origins.

Vines Expository Dictionary defines repent (the verb)—to perceive afterwords, and repentance (the noun)—afterthought or change of mind.

MR Vincent sheds more light on the subject saying, repentance is the "result of perceiving or observing," or "to think differently after." After what? He points us to what the apostle Paul says in 2 Cor 7:10—Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation....

Repentance is the outcome of godly sorrow.

Another perspective

Most often, the idea of repentance is understood as turning away from sin. Yes, but why? If repentance is to "think differently after," then we ought to consider what precedes this change in thought and behavior.

This understanding, coupled with biblical examples, helps me see repentance as turning to God, which causes us to turn away from sin and our former way of life.

If you look at the three parables in Luke 15, each focuses on what was lost and found—a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son (Luke 15:7, 10, 24, 33).

The simple truth of each parable reminds us of the rejoicing in heaven "over one sinner who repents..."

In the longer (third) parable, the lost son realizes his situation would be better if he were accepted as a mere servant in his father's household (Luke 15:17-24). The father gives him a very different reception than expected or warranted (see Luke 15:28-32).

God's perspective or our own?

Someone might ask, "Does it really matter? Isn't the idea to change your ways?" And this is where our problem lies. We often see repentance as something we need to do. I've heard many preach and teach this perspective, but is this what we read in the Scriptures?

Is repentance up to us and our own effort, or is it a response to God's mercy and grace after experiencing God's kindness?

When Jesus began His public ministry, His message was one of repentance (Matt 4:17), so also John the Baptizer (Matt 3:2, 8). But when confronted with a situation that demanded justice, He showed mercy to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11). What did Jesus say to her when no one was left to condemn her? “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:11 NKJV)

Another example of this change of mind after is seen in the parable of the two sons (Matt 21:28-32). It continues the same mind-set of changing the mind and action after the initial response to the father. It also gives insight into how His message of repentance was received by people—tax collectors and prostitutes, and the Jewish leaders.

Again, in one of the letters to the seven churches, Jesus tells the church at Ephesus they had abandoned the love they had at first, and to repent and do the works you did at first (Rev 2:4, 5). The idea of repentance is that of turning back to God, their first love.

A final thought

As I said with the title of this post, repentance isn't just for unconverted sinners. Repentance is something everyone needs to practice. Not just the action of turning away from sin, but turning to God so we may turn from sin.

In fact, once we have a relationship with Jesus, having experienced His forgiveness and the renewal of His Spirit in us (Titus 3:4-7), we are to put sin to death, not just turn away from it (Col 3:5). But that's another topic for another time.

As pointed out earlier, repentance is our response to God's kindness and goodness, not our own effort at goodness. Our own efforts at producing righteousness will meet with repeated failure (Rom 7:15-25). But when we turn to God first, He will guide us out of our battle with sin (our selfish nature). (Gal 5:16)

Repentance is our response to God's kindness and goodness, not our own effort at goodness

Missing the Obvious

Photo credit: Some things are as plain as day and easy to grasp.

We've all experienced the effect of gravity, either by dropping something or something falling on us. But understanding what causes the force of gravity requires some knowledge of physics, and yet is still a theoretical mystery.

Understanding truth, theological or biblical truth, is similar. A certain level of understanding is plain and obvious, but a fuller understanding may elude us.

 An encounter with Jesus

On the same day Jesus rose from the dead, two of His followers travelled from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, about seven miles away. As they walked, they tried to sort out everything that had taken place.

Jesus came along and joined them as they talked with each other, but they didn’t realize it was Him. “You seem so absorbed with what you’re discussing. What are you so concerned about and why do you look so sad?” Jesus asked.

The two halted and Cleopas said, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn’t know what happened recently?!” Jesus simply replied, “What happened?”

They answered with amazement, “All that’s gone on with Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet working powerful miracles, and who spoke the truth with real authority! He was highly favored by God and the people respected Him, but our ruling priests and leaders had Him arrested and insisted He be put to death. So He was crucified, but we had believed He was the One who would deliver and restore our nation, Israel.

It’s been three days now, since all this took place. But today we were shocked to hear some of the women, also His followers, had gone to His tomb and found it empty! When they returned from the tomb, they said they had seen angels who told the women Jesus was alive! Some of His apostles also went to His tomb, but found it empty just as they said, and didn’t see Jesus.”

Then Jesus spoke sternly to them, “You are thinking like little children, unable to believe everything spoken through the Prophets. Isn’t it clear the Messiah needed to suffer all these things before His glorious reign?”

Then Jesus explained how the Law and the Prophets pointed to all of this, and gave them understanding of the Scriptures that spoke of Him as the Messiah. (Luke 24:13-27 paraphrased*)

[*This paraphrase is taken from my bookThe Mystery of the Gospel]

Heard but not understood

This dialogue between Jesus and two of His followers is revealing.

Jesus told His followers what was going to happen to Him before it took place, on more than one occasion (Matt 16:21). These two disciples retell what Jesus told them, though they didn't realize they were talking to Him.

They heard. They believed in Jesus. Yet, they only believed at a certain level. They didn't comprehend what they were told and heard.

Is this not you and me?

As Christian believers, we may hear the truth and believe it, until something happens counter to our understanding of it. This was the case of these two followers.

So, why does this happen? Why do we miss the obvious more times than we'd like to admit?

The simple answer is because we are human, not divine. We are more familiar with this world than the Kingdom of God.

This sets us up for disappointment when it comes to spiritual truth. Why? Because we often have misconceptions based on false expectations of our own.

Some simple things seen in this story

  • The disciples retold the gospel message, but didn't fully understand it (Luke 24:19-24)
  • Jesus rebukes them for not believing and understanding what they were told (Luke 24:25)
  • Jesus explains what happened to Him as He told them before (Luke 24:26-27)
  • It was through personal revelation that the disciples understood the truth (Luke 24:30-32)

How can we stop missing the obvious?

I don't know of any short cuts to stop missing the obvious with biblical truth. But, here are a couple things I've learned from this story that might help—

  • Read and reread the scripture you're studying in different versions—observe it again from different views
  • Learn to put biblical truth in your own words (IYOW) [reading other versions will help]— by doing this you will process (purposely think about) what you are reading
  • Go back to what you know already (see Luke 24:30-32 & John 6:5-12; 35-40)
  • Pray! Ask God to reveal things to you by His Spirit

[If you'd like to read more about this, consider buying my book, or downloading it as an e-book]


Here's another take on this story and the topic of this post— click on this link– and scroll down to the link titled– "The Doubters on the Road to Emmaus") — It's a chapter from the book Unfollowers, written by a writer whose blog I follow—

The Core of the Gospel


Culture has an amazing impact upon people. It subtly shapes their worldview of everything in life, from birth through adulthood.

This impact is strong and resistant to change, but it will change given sufficient cause. The change can be either good or bad depending on one’s worldview, values, or beliefs.

For example, the enslavement of Africans, abducted and traded as if they were cattle, was culturally acceptable in European countries and America. Now, it is illegal and immoral. But that change did not come easily.

A major culture change

A British Member of Parliament named William Wilberforce challenged his prevailing culture in the late eighteenth century. He proposed legislative measures at great cost to his reputation, wealth, and health for more than forty years.

But change came in 1833 when slavery was made illegal in England. It had a ripple effect felt across the oceans of the world, which included the newly established United States of America, the former colonial territory of Great Britain. [1]

Religion and culture

In many countries around the world, religious conviction is tied to the intrinsic culture.

The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic, with a strong contingent of Evangelical (Protestant) Christianity, a significant Muslim minority, and ancient folk traditions. Many Filipinos struggle with becoming born again, [2] because of the strong influence of Roman Catholicism—it’s rituals, traditions, and longevity.

Thailand is primarily Buddhist. Many Thais find it difficult to distinguish their national identity from their religion. Likewise in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the world’s largest population of Muslims reside. In many countries, it is illegal to proselytize someone of Islamic faith towards another faith.

The impact of culture

In the early 2000's, our Bible school in the Philippines sent out two young Filipinas as missionaries to Thailand.

MJ and Ruchell learned the Thai language quickly, and made friendships with ease. They lived out their Christianity with genuineness and simplicity, and were well received by their neighbors, including the landlord of the simple apartment they rented in Chiang Mai.

As they built relationships, they offered prayer for their new friends. Prayer was accepted with gratefulness. But when it came to accepting the Gospel and Jesus, who was unknown to them, there was resistance.

They were Thai. They were Buddhists. They were afraid of changing their religion and no longer being true Thais.

American culture and Christianity

America’s culture  is known for its respect for individual rights. As a result, Christianity in America is often self-focused and personalized.

Based on versions of the gospel, as given by popular preachers, many people regard Jesus as their best friend, someone personally interested in them, but not as their sovereign Lord. It is such a prevalent view it’s been categorized as a religious belief of its own—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. [3]

A popular worship song about the Lord’s death on the cross goes,

“You took the fall and thought of me, above all....” [4]

The Father’s purpose for Jesus going to the Cross was, indeed, to bring redemption for all people. But a self-focused bias is not reflected in the biblical version of the gospel, but is in a plethora of popular songs, teachings, and various Christian self-help books.

Culture bias

This cultural bias is exported around the world, reflecting an American, self-absorbed view of Jesus and the Gospel, which adulterates the gospel message. This has a crippling, often tragic effect.

The Gospel can be minimized and reduced into brief terms. When this happens, its importance and significance is overlooked. Biblical truth may be talked about and discussed without being passed on to those who need to hear it.

Ministries in America can focus more on getting people into the church than caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the people. Worship services can be more focused on presentation and performance than the Lord Himself, whom it is all intended to exalt.

A distorted focus

Are believers in churches being discipled unto the Lord Himself, or trained for doing certain tasks? The need to accomplish a list of spiritual activities can take the place of spending personal and intimate time with the Lord.

Things like spending time in prayer, devotions, reading the Scripture, serving in various ministries, and so on, are good things, but not an end in themselves.

The Lord desires His people to give themselves to Him.

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 NKJV)

I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that's more important than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 NLT)

It's all about Him, not us

Christian activity can look past what is most important—the personal element. The Christian life is far more than the sum of all Christian activities to be done.

What the Lord considers most important is revealed in the story of Matthew 16:13–28. It’s not complicated or theoretical, but simple and essential.

It is the core of the Essential Gospel and the Christian life. It runs counter to the culture of the day—the culture then and now.

Whether the culture is primitive or sophisticated, the Gospel and the call to follow Jesus is not “...all about me,” nor any individual. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you see your own culture's influence in how you view Christianity?

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling the Mystery

Footnotes for this excerpt are below

[1] Reference for William Wilberforce—

[2] Born again is a term Jesus used in John 3:3-8 when talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee. It has become synonymous with a personal faith conversion to orthodox Christianity, especially within evangelical circles.

[3] Here are a couple links to articles about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)— |

[4] The lyrics are from the song, “Above All,” by Lenny LeBlanc